'Playgrounds need tech,' says leading child psychologist. Bring on the iPads?

Parents worrying about screen time is nothing new.

Many of us grew up hearing ‘too much TV will rot your brain’ or ‘instead of looking at a screen, why don’t you play outside?’. And that was before the advent of social media, YouTube and some of the most popular video games today.

But what if it wasn’t so bad for your children to be immersed in technology?

Child psychologist Sam Wass, best known for his role on Channel 4’s the Secret Life of Four and Five Year Olds, tells Metro.co.uk that in many instances, technology can actually aid child development.

In fact, he believes we should be introducing tech into playgrounds to get children playing outside more.

‘There is a massive body of evidence now that being outside is beneficial for a number of different aspects of a child’s development, affecting in particular their concentration, stress and mood,’ Sam explains.

‘There is also evidence that children are increasingly spending less time outdoors. A connected playground [with technology] combines traditional outdoor play with connectivity.’

But what positive impact can tech like PlayStations or Xboxes really have on our children’s development – if any?

‘There is evidence that playing computer games improves children’s ability to do lots of different tasks at once, and keep track of lots of different things at once,’ insists Sam.

‘There’s also evidence that the types of problem-solving and teamwork that you have to do to be successful in a game such as Fortnite, for example, are quite similar to the types of problem-solving and teamwork that we have to do in our jobs as adults.

‘So in a lot of ways, the skills that you learn from computer games are actually more useful for our later lives than the types of skills you learn from doing your homework.’

Controversial, perhaps, but Sam goes further, suggesting some of the pedagogy in schools lacks real-life use.

‘You can argue that memorising lists of vocabulary, for example, is the type of skill that’s useful in school, but not remotely useful in our day-to-day adult lives,’ he says.

That’s not to say tech is always positive and Sam urges balance, and to monitor any potential downsides.

‘There is evidence that playing games can shift our bodies into “fight or flight” mode – the brain senses the imaginary danger but doesn’t know that it’s imaginary – so it readies the body to respond to actual real danger,’ he says.

‘So our heart starts to beat faster, [we] start to sweat, we get lots of energy released into the muscles, even though we’re just sitting still on the sofa, and so on.

‘We don’t know what the effects are of children being in “fight or flight” mode for long periods of time when they’re at home – but they’re probably not good.’

So, why bring electronics into parks and playgrounds? It represents an opportunity for ‘the best of both worlds,’ according to Sam.

He says: ‘The main reason why children love technology is that it is highly interactive – they press a button and something happens in response.

‘Interactivity is essential for children’s development – right back to the early childhood, and toddlers banging a spoon on the table to get a noise, they are sensitive to when their behaviours make something happen in response.

‘There is evidence that children enjoy this type of play because it is good for them. Our brains work by generating and testing predictions, and interactions – where I predict that something will happen and then it does – are a great way of stimulating the brain to develop.’

Sam’s tips for getting your kids to play outside:

Virgin Media O2 recently created a playground with apparatus including swings, slides and climbing frames modified with sensors, pressure pads and infrared beams that react in real-time to a child’s movement.

The tech enables children to create their very own musical masterpiece as they make their way around the playground and Sam believes its this type of innovation that could have a positive impact on a child’s development.

‘It brings this interactivity into an outdoor setting. It gives us the best of both worlds – it encourages children to be outside (which is great for concentration, stress and mood) but it also encourages interactivity (which is great for learning),’ he says.

Some parents may be concerned that technology may take away their children’s creativity, but Sam actively disagrees with this.

‘I would argue than in a lot of ways technology gives a lot of opportunity for creativity – whether it’s the photos and artwork that they place on Instagram, how well they can dream up and then edit a short film for Instagram or Tiktok, and so on,’ he says.

‘In a lot of ways there is a lot more pressure on children to be creative and original nowadays than there used to be.’

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